Rule Three of Concealed Carry

You are a consistent follower of Rule One, so you always carry a gun.  And since you are not merely a gun owner, but instead are actually prepared to defend yourself, you also follow Rule Two, and have trained sufficiently (and have kept in training sufficiently) to have at minimum a solid grounding in the fundamentals of shooting and gun-handling while also acquiring the requisite knowledge of the law with respect to use of force, and use of lethal force.

So what’s the third Rule?

It’s quite simple, really, even though this is the situation where the largest number of people will create the most ridiculous rationalizations to defend their emotional investment in a piece of equipment.

Rule Three of Concealed Carry:  Carry the most effective tool that you can.

And with that, we’re off to the caliber wars.  And the 1911/Glock wars.  And the “my Taurus/Diamondback/Sigma is JUST as GOOD as a…” arguments.

And let’s not forget the “I carry a revolver because semi-autos aren’t reliable enough” crowd.

Rule Three is actually very straightforward:  With respect to tools for self-defense, there are poor choices and good choices.  And for any given situation, there are better and worse choices.

If there is a guy out there who, daily, is carrying a 44 Magnum Revolver with an optic and a 10″ barrel, loaded with alternating FMJ and Black Rhino Teflon-Coated Spinning-Wheels-O’-Death-brand bullets out of a SERPA OWB holster carried in a small-of-the-back position—well, he is at least following Rule One.  That makes him a LOT more prepared than the majority of people in U.S.

I’d bet he doesn’t follow Rule Two though he thinks he does (just a guess there) but very obviously, he isn’t following Rule Three.

Rule Three is SUPPOSED to be simple.  If you need a hammer, then while a wrench will sometimes do, you certainly would prefer to use a hammer.   You want to use the best tool for the job–and with respect to concealed carry, you can make all your carry choices in advance.  So…choose to carry the most effective tool that you can.

Rule Three is not a “GUN X IS THE BEST GUN” rule.  What you can carry depends on your circumstances.  Different people, with different jobs, in different places, wearing different levels of clothing, in varying levels of permissive places, means that you can’t just tell someone “Brand X in caliber Y is what everyone should carry!”  It doesn’t work that way.

However, this doesn’t mean that all guns are equal, and there ARE choices that are better or worse than others.

Here’s the criteria for measuring the scale of better/worse for Rule Three, and note that these are NOT in any priority order:

  1. The gun should use a caliber/round that gets as close to meeting the FBI Ammunition Protocol standards for that particular barrel length as possible, as that is currently our best measure of functional effectiveness in terms of stopping an attacker in a self-defense situation.  (Preferably using a round that has a historical track record of functional effectiveness, such as the 9mm Speer Gold Dot 124 +P round.)
  2. The gun should be as close to full-size as possible, as the weight, sight radius, and grip size all contribute to easier shooting at speed.  (The actual criterion here is “the gun should be as easy to shoot accurately at speed as possible,” but “fullsize” is about the easiest way to determine that.  Smaller guns are harder to shoot well, almost all of the time, no matter what people think about “how the gun feels in their hand.”)
  3. The gun should have the largest capacity possible, as we don’t know the number of rounds we will need to stop an attacker nor how many attackers there will be.
  4. The gun’s controls should be as simple to use as possible, including a trigger that is easy to shoot well under stress.  (This isn’t an argument against safeties and single-action semi-auto pistols, it is more of a “a 12-pound trigger is a worse choice than a 5-pound trigger, and if you can’t carry with a round in the chamber or need to operate awkward levers to make the gun run, it isn’t a good choice” sort of thing.)
  5. The gun must be reliable, and more accurate than you are.  “Reliable” in this case means “a proven track record of function without issue.”  “More accurate than you are” is generally not a problem until you get into REALLY poorly-made junk guns, but you should have at least tested to make sure the gun hits where it is supposed to out to the limit of your ability to make hits.

Here’s why these things are important:

The point of carrying a concealed weapon is so that you have a self-defense tool in case you are the victim of a lethal-force-level assault.  In other words:  Someone is trying to kill you, rape you, or permanently main you.  You don’t know what the situation will be or how many attackers there will be–so whatever you bring with you is IT.  As such, you want the most gun that you can shoot accurately at speed with the highest capacity that has known functional effectiveness for stopping attackers in a lethal-force situation.

If you wish to argue your gun choice based on different criteria than the above, ok….but that’s not why the rest of us carry a gun.  Your attacker may be a strung-out teenage junkie who can barely hold the knife in his shaking hands, and who will run the minute he sees your hand go for the gun.  Or instead you might be attacked by three people in an alley who plan on beating you with baseball bats until your arms and legs and skull are broken, raping you repeatedly, then setting you on fire to watch you burn to death.  (Neither of those situations, I note, are made-up.  They are not hypothetical.)

You don’t get to choose which situation happens to you.  That part isn’t up to you.

So your defensive tool had better be as close to an optimum “can handle anything” as possible.  (Note:  The gun itself can’t handle anything.  But….certain guns can enable YOU to handle many things.  Others won’t.)

If your circumstances are such that you can carry a Glock 34 loaded from mags with extended basepads so you have a 23-round capacity—excellent!  That’s an easy-to-shoot, reliable gun in a known-to-be-functionally-effective caliber and round, with a large capacity.  But most people can’t carry guns that size on a daily basis, so they have to start picking and choosing from a subset of smaller guns…and sometimes, that means that people start making choices that aren’t optimal for them.

Sometimes people even pick full-size guns that aren’t good choices, as least not good choices for the reason you might need a carry gun.

Do you carry a Taurus Judge*?  Do you like having lower capacity and a gun that is harder to shoot well at speed?  Do you feel a need to handicap yourself with respect to your ability to respond with lethal force in a wide variety of self-defense situations if necessary?

Do you carry a Hi-Point* pistol?  Do you prefer a firearm that at any point in time when shot, may catastrophically disassemble itself?  Yes, yes, I know—yours has “functioned flawlessly for hundreds of rounds.”  And yet…given Hi-Point’s quality control and materials choices, you literally DON’T KNOW what is going to happen when you fire the next round.  It might be fine.  It might not.  You don’t know.

Some things are poor choices.  That’s how it is.  There are plenty of guns that are the exact same size as the above that that hold significantly more ammunition and DON’T have reliability problems, durability problems, ammunition capability problems, or trigger issues.

(There is nothing about a Hi-Point that causes it to be a better choice than any other similar gun OTHER than “it is the only one I can get.”  If “it is the only one I can get” is NOT your reason, then you are making a poor choice.  If that IS your reason, then excellent job of following Rule One, and I hope your circumstances improve so that you can upgrade your self-defense tools.)

In this day and age, UNLESS you’ve been shooting one your whole life and you’ve actually practiced with it so that you are extremely accomplished, AND you are old and don’t have time before you die to train to a similar level of accomplishment with a different gun (and this describes almost no one), why would you carry a full-size revolver*?    Again, there are a significant number of firearms of similar size that score much higher on the criterion scale with respect to why you are carrying in the first place.

If you can carry (for a non-random example based on a discussion regarding the Rule One article) a S&W model 327 TRR8 8 shot .357 Magnum revolver—why aren’t you carrying a Glock 34?  Heck, you could carry a Glock 40 MOS in 10mm with an RMR on it, and STILL have it be a) an inch less in length, b) the same height, c) have a trigger pull HALF that of the revolver, d) have it weigh over a third of a pound less, and e) have 200% of the revolver capacity.

Note:  I’m not saying an RMRed G40 is a good choice for self-defense carry.  I’m just saying—if you feel the need for round with significant thump, noise, and blast and you can carry a weapon that size, why not maximize what you can get?

Unless, of course, it isn’t actually about maximizing your defensive capability.  Don’t get me wrong, the 327 TRR8 is actually a sweet revolver. I wouldn’t say no to one, and I don’t even LIKE revolvers.

But…what we carry should be based on maximizing our functional effectiveness.  If you can carry a revolver that size, and if functional effectiveness is what is important, then you probably should be carrying a Glock 34 or something else of similar size and capacity.

Some people’s reasons for carrying smaller guns that are less effective ARE reasonable.  For example, some people (for example, folks with severe arthritis) literally cannot take much recoil.  Even a 9mm is something their hands and wrists cannot handle, so for their cases, something like a .22 may be their only functional choice.  (.32s and .380s often have extremely sharp, snappy recoil, and unless you can find a larger gun in those calibers like a Sig 250, they can’t shoot them.)  If they want a gun, then a .22 is it.

But…there are choices they can make around that.  There are full-size and compact versions of .22 pistols that are extremely easy to shoot well and have decent capacity with good triggers.  Even if (due to their environment) they have to go with a compact gun, they don’t have to choose a tiny .22 revolver with vestigial sights and a horrible trigger.  Even a Beretta Bobcat is better than that!  (And a Bobcat is actually a handy little gun.  Claude Werner, for example, makes a point to show how smaller pistols really CAN be useful for self-defense purposes.  He isn’t saying they are “better” than larger pistols in larger calibers–but his writings and demonstrations show pretty clearly that if you follow Rule One and Rule Two, a Bobcat can often be sufficient for Rule Three under many circumstances.)

Maybe because of the movement requirements of your job (and the clothing limits) you can’t carry a full-size gun.  Maybe it is an extremely non-permissive (though legal) area, so you can’t afford to print at all, or potentially flash the gun.  So you need a deep concealment holster that doesn’t restrict movement, and a smaller, flatter gun.

There ARE sometimes valid reasons why people don’t carry full-size semi-autos in effective calibers.  However…that doesn’t mean that there still aren’t better or worse choices within the limits of the gun you can carry.  You want to attempt to meet as many of the criteria above as you can, within the range allowed by your situational limits.

If you read any Internet gun forum, it won’t take long to run into MANY MANY EXAMPLES of people making non-optimal choices.  And that’s fine.  If you are one of them, you can do that.  It is your choice.  But….the argumentative rationalization of your choice based on your emotional investment isn’t going to be convincing to anyone else.  Should anyone yell at you for your choice?  Of course not.  But it is certainly true that you might be told that there are better choices, particularly if you are trying to argue that your particular choice was fantastic and flawless, and definitely if you are telling other people to make the same choice you did when they are interested in making a better one.  Just because you are emotionally invested in your choice doesn’t mean you made a good one, and it also doesn’t mean that anyone else has to agree with you–which means they are free to point out the flaws in your decision-making process.

Are there actual valid reasons why you aren’t carrying a full-size, full-capacity handgun that shoots a round that passes the FBI Ammunition Protocols?  If you can’t come up with valid reasons….then you are making a poor choice.  You should switch to a better choice.

If there ARE actual valid reasons, are you coming as close to the criteria as you possibly can, given your circumstances?

Hint:  If you are carrying a Ruger LCP in an Fobus OWB holster, the answer is “No.”  And you should probably think about it.

In case you haven’t read them in order:


*Cue the Judge/Hi-Point/Revolver defenders going ballistic.  Remember, we don’t use crescent wrenches as hammers either, given a choice.  You can, but it isn’t an optimal choice.  (Though using a Judge as a defense gun is more like using a frozen banana as a hammer.)  It might get the job done…but even if it does, it’ll take longer, it’ll be a lot more painful, and sometimes it just won’t work.  Perfectly good wrench, should be used for wrench things, not hammer things.


Rule Two of Concealed Carry

So, you are following Rule One.  You have a gun, concealed, on your person.  So, what’s the next rule?  What’s the next most important thing?

Have the basic knowledge and skill to use it properly.  That’s Rule Two.

Some people are probably scratching their heads and saying “why was ‘Have A Gun’ Rule one when you aren’t requiring anyone to know how to use it?”  Simple—if you don’t have one, what skills you have with it won’t matter.  And more importantly, plenty of people who have no formal training or practice with firearms have nonetheless competently defended themselves using firearms.

So while I’m sure we’d all prefer that everyone was trained to a high level with firearms, oddly enough, for self-defense purposes with a firearm, that’s actually less important than having a firearm in the first place.

But it is true that having at least basic skill and knowledge is the next thing.  Once you are following Rule One religiously, then Rule Two is what you should be making sure you have down solidly.

Note:  In this series of articles, I’m talking about concealed carry of a handgun for self-defense, not self-defense in general.  For a discussion of self-defense in general, we’d be talking about significantly different topics, like awareness, de-escalation, self-discipline, the use of force continuum, etc—in other words, the physical equipment we’d be using for self-defense would actually be pretty low on the priority list.  But that’s not the topic here—this is limited specifically to concealed carry of a lethal-force-level tool for self-defense purposes.

If you followed Rule One, then you have a gun.  If you follow Rule Two, then you’ve practiced sufficiently such that you have a safe, efficient draw, and can put accurate shots on target.  Preferably quickly. AND you know the law sufficiently to realize when the situation merits a lethal-force response, and the constraints on you with respect to that response.

Sure, there is a TON more with respect to knowledge and skills that you can work on developing and learning—but at the very least (again, we are going in priority order here), once you have a gun, Rule Two is that you need to have the ability to 1) recognize when you need to use it to save your life, 2) clearly understand the legal requirements that need to be met prior to using it to save your life, and 3) have the ability to quickly and safely get it out and put accurate shots on target to safe your life.

How quick is “quickly”?  What do we mean by “accurate”?

No one agrees on that, really.  There are all sorts of standards, drills, and tests, written by all sorts of people, with all sorts of different points of view.  And worse yet, there is a HUGE difference between a “minimum standard,” what is considered “basic competency,” and what is considered “good solid skills.”  (Much less “highly skilled” or “advanced.”)  Those terms all mean different things to different people.

How good is “good enough”?  Truthfully, you are going to have to make your own decision on that, because what you hear as “good enough” is completely going to depend on who you are talking to, and what their background is…which may not match your situation or needs at all.

Here’s a place to start, though:  Can you, cold (no warmup, no dryfire), shoot a 100% on your state’s CCW shooting qualification?  (If your state doesn’t have one, use ones from the states around yours.  Someone in there has a state qualification.  If they don’t, use your state’s police firearms qualification.)

That qualification isn’t going to be rating “highly skilled” or necessarily even “competent” level with respect to gun skills.  However, 1) it will give you a place to start, if you can’t do that yet, and 2) if you have someone credible officially witness it and keep track of the target and scores, you ALSO now have a verified demonstration that you meet the basic skill requirements for CCW (or the same standards required of police officers) in your state, in case your skill ever comes into question in court.  (And I was just reminded that this idea originally came from Massad Ayoob, and I think it is a good one–particular if using the state LEO qualification course.)

You don’t want to stop there in your skill development, though.  For example, Nebraska’s CCW firearms qualification is laughably easy.  BUT…again, it gives you a place to start.  Nebraska’s police firearms qualification is also extremely easy (at least to pass it, though a 100% requires decent fundamentals) but it is a step up.  Can you do those?  Then you have a good start on the gun-handling skills.

Should you stop there?  In my opinion, no….but that really isn’t the point of Rule Two.  Rule Two says that you should know enough (and be practiced enough with your carry weapon and gear) to be able to get the gun out safely and efficiently and get accurate shots on target to at least a minimum standard.

Many people can’t.  For example:  If, using your CCW gear, you can’t get a passing score on the Nebraska Law Enforcement Firearms Qualification course of fire, then you aren’t following Rule Two yet.  The NE LEO Qual is straightforward, and if you have decent basic fundamentals, passing is simple.  Matter of fact, scoring a 100% isn’t hard.

(Example:  Ardena Shooting the Nebraska LEO Firearms Qualification  )

For the legal side—take a CCW class that does a GOOD job of covering the laws.  Take Chris Zeeb’s Legal Aspects of Lethal Force class.  Learn about Use of Force laws.

You’ve got to know when you can and cannot defend yourself with lethal force.  Going to prison for the rest of your life is NOT effective self-defense–you’ve got to know the law.

To follow Rule Two, you need to:

  • Have knowledge sufficient to recognize when you need to defend yourself with lethal force
  • Have knowledge sufficient to understand the requirements and constraints of legal use of lethal force
  • Have sufficient skill to safely and efficient draw and put accurate shots on target at speed.

If you don’t, then you still might be able to defend yourself.  But….you aren’t really prepared to do so, and may get yourself into deep legal trouble.  The ability to meet the basic requirements of Rule Two is what makes the separation between “gun owners” and “people prepared to defend themselves.”


Next time:  Rule Three: Choose the appropriate tools for the job.

Rule One of Concealed Carry…

I know that if you read articles or forums posts written by me, you will see phrases like “any caliber from 9mm through .45acp will work equally well” and “at least shoot a 9mm” crop up often.  There is a large, robust set of of research data showing those calibers, through handguns, will be functionally effective in the same manner to the same degree and can, in general, be relied upon to cause self-defense “stops” given adequate accuracy on the part of the shooter.

Does this mean I believe anyone who carries a smaller caliber than that isn’t going to be able to defend themselves?

Not at all.

Plenty of attackers in self-defense situations have been stopped by people with .22s.  And in the majority of self-defense situations involving defensive gun uses (DGUs) the attackers have been stopped without a shot being fired.  As such, the first rule of concealed carry is simply:  HAVE A GUN.

It you don’t….then you’ve failed the “concealed carry” portion of your test.  Hopefully, you’ll manage to pass the “unarmed defense” section, when you are attacked.  (I’ll note that section of the test is normally a LOT harder.)

So if what you carry is a two-shot .22 derringer, I’m not going to say you are wrong.  Do you carry it every day, everywhere?  Good, then you are obeying the first rule of concealed carry.

Does that mean I think you are making good choices regarding your concealed carry?  Well, that’s a separate issue.  While it is true that the vast majority of defensive gun uses end in either no shots fired or one shot fired, it is ALSO true that sometimes more is required.

That’s a different topic, though.  First Rule:  HAVE A GUN.  Carrying it doesn’t mean that magically you will be protected from harm, but having it means that you have the tool that most often ends self-defense situations without harm to you if used properly.*

Have a gun.

(Note:  the “if used properly” part is also important.  Again, that’s a different topic though.)

Next Rule:  Rule Two of Concealed Carry